One of the coolest and most useful developments from modern technology has become something of a burden: the sheer diversity of communication apps available to the general public. On some level, the abundance of different modes of communication is a good thing—you can maintain healthier, more frequent conversations with the people you talk to on a regular basis. But they can also be overwhelming.
So how can you manage the negative aspects of communication apps while still taking advantage of them as much as possible?
The Downsides of Communication App Overload
First, let’s establish why it’s generally a bad thing to be overloaded with different communication apps.
- Lost messages. Someone sends you an instant message on some third-party app. They later email you something different. Now you need to recall the information from the first message. Will you have to sort through multiple platforms to remember when it was sent? This is a simple and straightforward example, but over time, things get ridiculously complex, and messages get lost or unintentionally ignored.
- Notification hell.If you have notifications turned on, you’re probably going to get notifications from a wide variety of different apps, on an almost constant basis. In addition to being distracting (and ruining your productivity), notifications increase your perception of stress, making you more anxious in the process.
- Purpose confusion.It’s also possible to misuse platforms when you’re juggling too many at once. If you need to get someone’s attention as soon as possible, should you send them an email? A text? A call? Some combination of these? The hesitation and resulting complication can interfere with your ability to work productively.
So what measures can you take to ensure you’re using your apps effectively, without compromising your own sanity in the process?
Reduce or Eliminate Notifications
Your first job is to eliminate notifications altogether, if you can. Otherwise, you can reduce their frequency by selectively toggling which apps send notifications (and how they send notifications). This way, you can segregate your apps into those worthy of your immediate attention and those that can be checked only at your leisure.
There are a few interesting effects to consider here. Downstream, this is going to reduce your communication-related stress, and allow you to focus more on other tasks. Additionally, this will subtly “funnel" people to your preferred communication apps; if you respond immediately only on certain platforms, people will be more likely to use those platforms in the future.
Understand the Strengths, Weaknesses, and Context for Each App
Next, work on understanding the real strengths, weaknesses, and proper context for each app. Start with the platforms you’re most familiar with, and work your way to the new apps your coworkers or family members told you to download.
For example, these days, an unannounced phone call is usually a sign of an emergency or bad news. A text message is great for communicating a quick idea, or one that needs a quick response. An email is good for lengthier statements or short dialogues. But if you’re managing a conversation, you’ll want a group chat or a conference call.
Eventually, you’ll get to apps or platforms that have overlapping functions. For example, you may have a communication app that offers some of the same advantages as platforms you’re already using. If and when you find these redundancies, consider deleting the extraneous apps altogether.
Otherwise, get familiar with the “right" context for each app, and hold yourself to those standards.
Leave Group Conversations
Group conversations may seem like a great way to get lots of people on the same page on a given topic, but they often grow too complex or overburdened with activity to be sustainable. Review the email threads, group chats, and other modes of mass messaging that might be holding you back with too many notifications or threads that have spiraled out of control. Leave or delete the ones that are no longer productive.
Streamline and Funnel
Finally, find ways to streamline and/or funnel your communications to a smaller number of “core" communication apps. As a simple example, you can set yourself up to receive email notifications whenever a significant event takes place in your project management or team chat platform; this way, you can exclusively check email and still avoid missing out on important developments. You can also work to corral your team onto a selection of platforms of your choosing—though you might face resistance if you’re not in a leadership position.
To an extent, more communication apps are a good thing—they give us more options and more flexibility in how we reach out to others. But they can also be problematic unless you use these strategies to get them under control.